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New Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (S. 841) has been passed to help protect the blind and other pedestrians from the danger of new silent electric and hybrid vehicle technology. President Obama signed the bill into law on January 4, 2011.

Pedestrians and bicyclists benefit from hearing vehicles in situations when they cannot see them coming. The new vehicle technology has made some vehicles completely silent, preventing people from hearing the familiar warning sound of an engine coming towards them.

The National Federation of the Blind explains that, because blind pedestrians cannot see vehicles coming, they depend on the sounds traffic makes to determine vehicles’ location, speed and direction.

“This law, which is the result of collaboration among blind Americans, automobile manufacturers and legislators, will benefit all pedestrians for generations to come as new vehicle technologies become more prevalent,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.

The law requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to decide on a sound level that is appropriate for electric and hybrid vehicles to prevent pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities.

The law also requires Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to work on legislation to require auto manufacturers to comply with the new sound requirement.

The NHTSA has begun research at the Volpe National Transportation Center in Massachusetts testing synthetic sounds for their effects on pedestrians.

On Fast Lane, the official blog of the Secretary of Transportation, the NHTSA research is described as “trying to find the right balance between quiet roadways and pedestrian safety.”

“To diminish our reliance on oil through hybrid and electric vehicles, we are creating a much quieter fleet,” writes Secretary Ray LaHood, “And as we make these leaps forward, I’m glad to know we’re keeping our focus squarely on safety.”